Over the past year and a half, discussion of food insecurity and housing insecurity has been at the forefront of many conversations as the pandemic impacted communities right here in Boston and around the globe. But what about menstrual care? A necessity for folks to lead healthy lives, many are not able to afford menstrual care products, which has only been made worse by the pandemic.
Dignity Matters is a nonprofit that partners with other nonprofits and organizations to provide menstrual care to those who need it most. The Sun spoke with Kate Sanetra-Butler, Founder and Executive Director of Dignity Matters, as well as Director of Development Merryl Glassman to learn more about the nonprofit and how it serves women and girls across the state, including communities right here in Boston. The organization is also gearing up for its second annual Dignity Matters NOW Auction to raise funds to purchase these crucial items, and is hoping as many people as possible will bid on some exciting items up for auction.
Dignity Matters was started five years ago, as “an organization that’s focused on providing free period protection as well as underwear and bras,” Sanetra-Butler said, for adults as well as school-aged individuals.
“Our mission is critical because SNAP benefits do not cover period protection,” she said. Additionally, “for most of these organizations and the vast majority of women we’re supporting, we are the only source,” Glassman added, saying that menstrual care products are not often donated. “They are needed every month, so it’s a constant need.” Dignity Matters is able to purchase these products at a discounted price.
The organization grew from a humble beginning, starting out of Sanetra-Butler’s basement in Wayland, to now distributing products to more than 150 nonprofit organizations in the state, 50 of which are in Boston. “They vary from domestic violence centers, shelters for the homeless population, medical centers, as well as just public schools with a high rate of poverty,” she said.
About a year and a half ago, distribution was expanded to food pantries as well to help a “population that simply cannot afford to buy monthly menstrual care,” she said.
In Jamaica Plain and neighboring areas, Dignity Matters serves nine Congregate Family Shelters of the Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance (MHSA), Women Connecting Affecting Change, Elizabeth Stone House, and City Mission Boston, as well as the James W. Hennnigan School.
Organizations who partner with Dignity Matters have at least a one-year commitment from the organization to provide them with menstrual care products. “That way, they can rely on it,” Sanetra-Butler said.
Dignity Matters began by doing collection drives for products, running “hundreds” of them at a time, she said, but it was “simply not enough.”
Sanetra-Butler said that after learning that New York provides free menstrual products in schools, she found out where they were getting the products from and reached out. “We’ve been using the same contract for four and a half years now,” she said, adding that this has been extended to “big national brands like Hanes and Fruit of the Loom” for underwear as well.
“That’s really about 80 percent of what we distribute,” she said. “We can’t purchase it without the help of our amazing development team.”
Glassman said, “we support other organizations that help these women. These organizations know these women; they know their needs. They have their trust.”
Sanetra-Butler added, “at the same time, they are experts in knowing their clients and what their clients need on a daily basis. We are experts on logistics, supply chain, and menstrual care. It just makes sense for the benefit of the women we serve that we partner with nonprofits. We secure funding, ordering, shipping, [and] delivering it to women in a timely manner.”
The pandemic presented a challenge to Dignity Matters, not only with the additional women needing products, but also with production of the products themselves.
“A lot of the work we did had to be changed,” Sanetra-Butler said, including working around not being able to have the several hundred typical volunteers together to help. Distribution went from monthly to bimonthly, which required more coordination, she said.
Glassman added that the manufacturers of the menstrual care products were also manufacturing PPE like gowns and masks during the height of the pandemic, but she was “we are really grateful that they were able to get it done for us” and provide the products needed. There were “a lot of moving parts,” she said.
Glassman spoke a little bit about the upcoming auction, which will be accepting bids from September 16th to the 23rd. Items up for bid include an Ultimate Red Sox Tour and Tickets, an insider ticket package for Hamilton on Broadway, rounds of golf at Willowbend and the Hopkinton Country Club, rock climbing and zip-lining experiences, and various gift cards to restaurants, stores, spas, museums, and more.
“We have absolutely been blown away by the support from local businesses and organizations,” Glassman said.
“We, unlike a lot of organizations during COVID felt like it was just the right time during COVID to raise additional funds,” she said.
Glassman said that between March and June of last year, the number of people served “more than doubled” from 4,000 to 8,500 a month, so more funding was required to support the growing number of women in need.
The virtual auction was what they came up with to help raise additional funds to ensure these critical products could continue to be provided, while still ensuring the safety of everyone during the pandemic.
Last year, the goal was to raise $15,000, and $20,000 was raised. This year, the goal is to raise $30,000, but Glassman said that the hope is to get closer to $40,000 or $45,000.
“So far, we’ve had a really great response from folks registering and wanting to get involved in the auction,” she said. “We’re really excited about it.”
Now, Dignity Matters serves nearly 11,000 women a month, with that number growing by the day with new requests from organizations. “We need people to step up,” Sanetra-Butler said. “If every woman in the state donated $1, we wouldn’t even have this issue.”
She continued, “without period protection, women can’t even go get food. Of course, for us, it’s one of the most important needs. It’s like medication; you just have to have it.”
To register to bid at the virtual Dignity Matters NOW Auction and support Dignity Matters’ mission, visit bit.ly/dignity-matters-now. For more information about Dignity Matters, visit dignity-matters.org.